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To research an attempt, successful or otherwise, by an historical agent to gather,
process, and represent information as a means of achieving a specific social,
political, or economic goal using media technology. How do historical agents
obtain information and what do they do with it? What happens when
information is transformed into “knowledge” about bodies, communities, and
ways of living? What kinds of new social formations or ways of thinking does
this new relationship with information prescribe?
1. Choice of Topic: Select an attempt by a historical agent (a government,
corporation, organization, or individual) to gather, interpret, and process
information and thereafter use media to represent it as a specific form of
a. Some examples of historical knowledge production projects
(many others are possible): the use of censuses to gather
information about a population, the development of statistics for
business or actuarial tables for insurance, journalistic efforts to shed
light on urban poverty or other perceived social ills, corporations’
use of surveys and focus groups to enhance marketing efforts and
increase profits, and state efforts to surveil and record the activities
of their citizens or other populations.
b. An important distinction here lies between information, by which
we mean facts, numbers, images, messages, or documents, and
knowledge, by which we mean something known about
i. An example: a government carries out a census to gather
information about, among other things, the incomes and
occupations of its citizens. Were the government to then use
that information to determine taxation policy, to set economic
goals, or to address wealth inequality, then it would need to
first turn the information into a form of knowledge by classifying, analyzing, and drawing conclusions based upon
the census information.
ii. Another example: a reporter for a major newspaper conducts
interviews to collect information about the lives of individuals
living in poverty in the city where her paper is published.
Were the reporter to then compose and publish a newspaper
article about the dire conditions of destitution pervasive
throughout the city and what might be done about them, she
would be turning the information she collected into a
particular form of knowledge by selecting, narrativizing, and
synthesizing the information.
iii. Yet another example: a corporation seeking to develop a new
product line engages an advertising agency to ascertain how
best to market the product. The advertising agency conducts
market research, including focus groups, surveys, and in-store
observation of customers. The information thereby obtained
is then analyzed and processed to reveal important knowledge
about the potential consumer base for the corporation’s
c. Parameters: 1800-1960s, anywhere in the world. Exceptions to the
time period parameters must be preapproved.
d. Get started early. Your first idea may not work if sufficient
sources are lacking. If so, you can either see if something similar is
possible to research or try a different idea instead. Feel free to think
creatively, though. There are many potential ways to conceive of
“information” being turned into a form of “knowledge.”
2. Analysis: To develop a sophisticated and multivalent argument explaining
how and why information became knowledge. Invest time analyzing the
various stages and components of the process, although you do not need
to give equal weight to each stage. Emphasize the stages you determine
most consequential for the historical outcome of your chosen knowledge
a. Consider what counts as “information” and what might be
described as “knowledge” for your specific historical example.
Cmiel and Durham Peters offer some interesting models for how
“information” and “knowledge” can be respectively defined and also
how they relate to one another.
b. Consider the historical agent’s motives for gathering information
and presenting it as knowledge. What did they hope to gain
through this process? Determine what role media technologies played in the process of
gathering, classifying, and processing information. Also consider
what role media technologies played in the process of converting
information into knowledge and in representing that knowing to a
d. Did the historical agent encounter resistance or face problems with
specific stages of their knowledge production project? Was their
project conceptually or morally flawed?
e. Does this knowledge production project reveal something
significant about how media technologies can be used to produce
knowledge and even establish the “truth” about some aspect of
society, culture, politics, the economy, or the natural world?
3. Writing: Compose an argument explaining how and why an historical
agent used media technologies to obtain and process information and
then presented the results as a form of knowledge.
a. Your argument should be persuasive, but it not need not be
comprehensive. Identify key aspects of the knowledge production
process to focus your argument on, then determine what you will
need to explain and argue in the form of supporting points. In other
words, you should provide an overview of the entire knowledge
production project, but you could then focus on how information
was collected, how it was processed, or how the resulting
knowledge was presented.
b. It can help to have a basic, preliminary thesis to guide your research
and writing. Allow this thesis to develop into a more complex
argument as you identify and accentuate aspects of how the
knowledge production process functioned. Your final thesis
statement should succinctly state your overall argument in a clear
and compelling manner. Take your time crafting it.
c. Using an outline will allow you to construct your argument in a
modular fashion. With an outline as scaffolding, you can move
parts around, determine where specific claims and evidence should
appear, and identify portions that while interesting may not
necessarily fit your evolving argument. An outline can also serve as
an excellent holding space for evidence, sources, quotes, and
d. Aim to finish a complete draft two days before the deadline. This
will allow you ample time to edit, proofread, and, if needed,
overhaul your paper to ensure it is clear, compelling, and well-balanced.
1. An introductory paragraph ending with an argument in the form of a
2. Several well-organized body paragraphs in which you introduce and
analyze specific evidence. Your body paragraphs should prove your
argument in a logical, well-substantiated manner. Within your body
a. A succinct description of (A) of your chosen historical agent and
b. A succinct description of (B) the knowledge production project.
c. An explanation of the role media technologies played in the
knowledge production project.
3. A concluding paragraph restating your argument in light of the evidence
and analysis you provided.
4. Thorough source citations (MLA, APA, or Chicago) and a Works Cited
section. After or below “Works Cited,” indicate in parentheses which
citation style you are using.
5. At least five published sources.
a. These can include books, chapters in edited volumes, monographs,
journal articles, and documentary films. Separate chapters in the
same book can count as separate sources each, if you need them to.
b. You may also provide primary source evidence. A primary source is
the raw material of history. This could include pieces of
information, texts or images produced during the knowledge
production process, or forms of media in which the knowledge was
c. You are welcome to include images, document samples, or other
suitable graphic material. Look up how to include such sources
properly according to your chosen citation style.
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